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How to Survive in the Spanish Workplace

It's crucial that you are aware of your surroundings. And your surroundings, for the most part, will be Spanish.
April 18, 2007 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 22 Comments

From the Miami Relocation Guide.

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After weeks of waiting tables and sending out resumes, you finally got the call for an interview in a field in which you want to work. It took a while, and if you have to roll one more set of silverware you are going to crack. So you’d better make the most of this opportunity. While many universities and other websites offer comprehensive advice on what to do when interviewing for a job in America, none of them ever consider the fact that some American cities, like, oh, say, Miami for instance, may throw you some curveballs you were not prepared for. Such as an interview never starting when it is supposed to. Or a person interviewing you who’s first language is not English. So where Wharton and Harvard failed you, we will pick up the slack. Because without unique preparation for the business world that is South Florida, you may find yourself doing sidework for a lot longer than you had anticipated.

Without getting too controversial here, a lot is made in the media about people hiring people who are like them. This is usually used to explain affirmative action programs and is more often than not mentioned in reference to Anglos hiring other Anglos. But in Miami, it is not the Anglos doing the hiring. The people in charge are very often going to be Latino.

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For better or for worse this is an undeniable fact of working in Dade County. The person interviewing you, unless you are Hispanic, will most likely be of a different culture. This is not an obstacle many Anglos consider when working in Cleveland or Syracuse, but it is something you must be cognizant of when applying for a job in Miami. I’m not saying change the name at the top of your resume to one that ends in Z, but you may want to make yourself more appealing to potential Latin interviewers. This may, again, include some knowledge of Spanish, an at least feigned appreciation for Latin Culture (Google “Sabado Gigante” and that can be a good start) or as little as walking in with a Café Cubano and some pastelitos. Discussing race and hiring in the same section is often considered taboo, but in Miami you must be aware of your surroundings. And in this town, your surroundings mostly speak Spanish.

Hispanic culture also dictates that nothing should ever start when it is formally scheduled. This is vastly frustrating to most people not familiar with it, especially when showing up for a job interview. You will rarely begin your interview within half an hour of the scheduled time, but you still must show up then on the off chance your interviewer is running on schedule. Do not get impatient or think the interviewer has forgotten about you if he doesn’t call you into his office for a while. This is just one of thousands of cultural abnormalities you must understand if you plan to reside in Miami.

5 TIPS FOR DRESSING IN THE WORKPLACE

  1. You do not need to wear an undershirt to your interview, as the oppressive humidity here makes them a non-essential part of the dress-code.
  2. Light colored suits are acceptable year-round, but you can still wear dark ones as well.
  3. Ditch your navy-blue wool suits as they will cause you nothing but discomfort and misery in the months of May-October.
  4. Light fabrics are perfectly acceptable.
  5. The warm climate allows for a lot more dressing-down than some other cities.

NOT EVERY CONVERSATION IN SPANISH IS MAKING FUN OF YOU. BUT IT MIGHT BE

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In the previous section, I mentioned that the person interviewing you would likely be of a different culture than you if you are not Latino. But this will hold true of your peers as well. There will be many occasions where you will be sitting in the office break room and the usual banal office chit chat about kids and pets and who is sleeping with whom will all be done in Spanish. Many of you probably see this as a godsend as you will not be subjected to the ridiculous office banter that forces more and more of us into telecommuting, but eventually you may start to feel left out. So here are some topics you may bring up around the refrigerator de agua.

  • How much fun you had at your niece’s quincenera last week
  • The funny thing you saw on “Que Pasa USA”
  • Why Castro needs to Die
  • Why Chavez also needs to Die
  • What your abuela made for dinner last night
  • How much you cried when your son said he might be moving out of the house at age 28. And just to clarify these are not tears of joy.
  • The plot of any Telenovela (if you are unfamiliar with Telenovelas take the plot of any American soap opera and substitute Latin character names)
  • Any Pepito joke
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These are just starting points and you can work your way in to any of these conversations at will. Your coworkers will immediately switch to speaking in English, or at least a hybrid Spanglish, when you enter the conversation thus ensuring they are not saying nasty things about you in another language. And while every non-Spanish speaker is convinced every Spanish conversation is something derogatory about them, I know from experience this is more often not the case than it is. So relax and enjoy not understanding a word anyone says.

Problems can occur, however, when supervisors give instructions in Spanish and assume you understood. As in your boss, Diaz, says to your coworker, Gonzalez, “Neccecito que escribas los Reportas de TPS otra vez. Antes de las 5.” He looks at you, nods, and then moves on. Well Gonzalez may have understood his boss’ request to have the TPS reports written again before 5, but what you heard may as well have been “I’m going over to La Carreta for Lunch? You want some Ropa Vieja?” So you went on reading celebrity gossip and looking for flights back to Portland and guess who didn’t get their TPS reports done on time? You.

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And now Gonzalez gets promoted and you are still stuck in the break room listening to Mirta drone on and on about her niece’s Qunce. Now, does this happen a lot? No, but it does occur. So if a supervisor says anything in Spanish to a coworker, make sure you ask him to repeat it in English so you do not get left in the dark.

This actually is an issue you can legitimately take up with your supervisor as many find it easier to converse in Spanish and will forget that you may not understand them. Most are very understanding about it and, at the very least, will send out a memo asking that office conversations be held in English. The memo, however, is typically written in Spanish.

Office politics and all joking aside, interviewing and working in Miami is not something many Americans are prepared for the reality of. It is an experience few expect and even less can deal with for very long. For better or for worse, it is a reality you must accept if you plan on relocating to Miami, and if it is not something you mind then you may find residing here to be quite enjoyable. Just remember that down here, you may not speak the same language as the people making decisions, the people appointed over you and the people with whom you converse every day. But don’t worry when you hear them talking in a manner you don’t understand. It’s really not all about you.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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22 Comments on

"How to Survive in the Spanish Workplace"

Heather Kay says:

Love this article as well as this web site.  As an “anglo” from Pittsburgh PA considernig moving to Miami, this is a great tool.  Thank you!

Posted on 02/03/2008 at 5:34 PM

Gus says:

Hi, Heather, welcome to MiamiBeach411. Happy you find our site helpful.

If you have any specific questions, just shout.

Posted on 02/04/2008 at 9:58 AM

Alex says:

I think English should be the main language in US ..maybe i’m a little bit nationalist , but in my opinion , they should talk in English with us.

Posted on 06/05/2008 at 3:51 PM

james says:

hi guys eveything this page said about the job and be english in miami is true its happing to me eveyday

Posted on 01/26/2009 at 4:35 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Does anyone else appreciate the irony of that last comment?

Posted on 01/26/2009 at 7:11 PM

Mariana says:

Hi im “latina” just like you said in the article and is very fun for me to se how you doesnt know anything my culture. We are not just “Sabado Gigante” and “Pepito” jokes, we work very hard for living in your country, is not easy for us. I recomendt you never, never said, nothing about Don Francisco and anything like that, just be your self and dont feel us like a strangers or your enemies, be normal.

Posted on 05/06/2009 at 4:25 PM

Christian says:

I agree with Alex. I don’t like the idea of americans having to adjust to another culture when they’re in their own country.

Posted on 05/29/2009 at 10:21 AM

Mike says:

Even though I believe English should be the “official” language of the United States, I don’t think that it would hurt Americans to learn another language like Spanish.  I am currently learning Spanish and have the opportunity to practice it everyday in Atlanta-a city that’s lacking in diversity.  If I spoke English and Spanish fluently, relocated to Mexico or Cuba, and worked around Americans or Britons or Australians who spoke both English and Spanish, I’d probably speak a lot of English to them as well.  Such is the case with Latinos living in the U.S. choosing to speak Spanish with other Spanish speakers.  I think that we all need to respect all cultures and languages.  We as Americans need to wake up and realize that the world is becoming more and more globalized and can no longer stay within our American “box” pretending the world still revolves around us.  Other people make it a point to learn English and adopt our western way of life.  We can reach beyond our boundaries as well.

Posted on 09/29/2009 at 6:57 PM

eparedes says:

I am really amused at this guide… the author clearly knows nothing about “latino” culture…whatever that is. I’m from Guatemala living in El Salvador and I’ve had to adapt myself to the cultural diferences between the two countries… and our capital cities are a 3hr drive away from each other!  The fact that we all speak Spanish (note: not all of us speak spanish, just Guatemala has over 20 indigenous languages, and THEY are the ones migrating to the US) doesn’t mean we all share the same culture. Anyway, I guess the same happens to us when we look at people from the U.S. and think that you all are the same.

Posted on 05/10/2010 at 10:01 PM

Cáceres says:

I’m from Puerto Rico, living in Pennsylvania now, and I don’t think it’s right that they have to speak everything in Spanish in Miami. or anywhere in the U.S. outside of the home, unless if it’s in Puerto Rico. Just like I expect people that move to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish and adapt to my culture. Anyway, that’s just my two bits. Those latinos in Miami need to understand, Miami is not San Juan.

Posted on 05/20/2010 at 12:42 AM

Jane or Juana says:

I hope everyone that reads these understands that they’re satirical.

Posted on 06/16/2010 at 5:30 PM

Michael J. Oxner says:

Matt, thanks so much for these no-holds barred tips. I’ve been in Detroit my entire 39 years and all this info is definitely GOOD TO KNOW. Thanks again, brotha…

Posted on 06/27/2010 at 1:41 PM

Daniela says:

I’m from Argentina, and I’m really disappointed with this article, just because a person speak Spanish doesn’t mean that we all watch SABADO GIGANTE and eat PASTELITOS , are unpunctual and disrespectfully talk Spanish in front a person that doesn’t, before posting such an article that puts every Hispanic culture in the same category you should make a little research, because at least south America is very far from that, I’m not saying that we are better that Cubans or Puerto Ricans just VERY VERY different.
Next time just tittle your article as HOW TO SURVIVE IN A CUBAN WORKPLACE, because you are talking specifically of THEIR culture because i can assure you that Argentineans, Uruguayans, Chileans, Venezuelans and all south America has absolutely NOTHING to do with what your wrote.

Posted on 09/10/2010 at 10:28 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

Uhhh, yeah. Don’t really care….

http://www.miamibeach411.com/news/index.php?/news/comments/all-the-same-to-me/

Posted on 09/10/2010 at 8:46 PM

Ann says:

I read through the article and I find everything in them true. Even with a college degree and working toward my second, I have only had temp employment and that was 5 monthes out of the last 18mo. I have lasted over the year but upon the 2 year make if I can not find any employment that is perm then I will be relocating back to Ohio.

Posted on 06/09/2011 at 5:04 PM

SC says:

I think it’s insulting that Americans would have to adapt and learn another language to live in their own country! Americans everywhere need to stand up and protest! Force government officials to earn your vote. Miami has turned into an extensions of Cuba and it’s completely ridiculous that we as Americans would sit back and allow something so demeaning to us and our country to occur let alone continue. And, I don’t give a D_ _ _ who doesn’t like it!

Posted on 11/17/2011 at 4:53 PM

Stephanie says:

bullshit!! hahaha you clearly have no idea of hispanic cultures you should read litle bit more

Posted on 01/13/2012 at 9:07 PM

Michael Butler says:

Its all a bit humourous to me. Being an American who has spent half his life in Guatemala and traveling the world. I unfortunately see many of my fellow Americans as ignorant and needy. I think Miami is a beautiful mix of Latino, Ladino, indignio and what not. Isn’t this what America was all about? Melting pot?
I am planning to move to Miami and am excited about its diversity!!
Cheers.

Posted on 03/27/2013 at 7:57 PM

Kay says:

I am a Latina that shows up to all appointments at least 10 minutes early.  I constantly feel like the only human being in South Florida that is capable of being on time to anything.  I also kind of agree with Daniela, in regards to the fact that many of the generalizations in the article are Cuban-centric, and don’t necessarily reflect Hispanics as a whole.  I know that it’s meant to be satire, so I’m not dwelling on it.

My first “professional office” type job was a bit of a shock.  It’s amazing what we get away with wearing to work here in Miami, even when the corporate dress code specifically prohibits it.  I still wear the textbook “interview suit” when job hunting, but it really sucks in the summertime.

Posted on 07/10/2013 at 1:25 PM

Parker says:

Hey, I’m am a native English speaking black guy who read the route article warning “Anglos” about Miami’s predominantly Latino culture. I live in MIA and while the city’s demographic is really Latin, I have never felt excluded nor found it hard to fit in here.  As for the language, I pick it up a long time ago growing up in LA.  I have to say, that Spanish is the by far easiest foreign language you will ever learn as an American.  Simple pronunciation, WYSIWYG spelling, “add an O” vocabulary makes up a pretty big chunk of the new words you learn and other words like impossible or mission are the same as English pronto pronounced with a Spanish accent.

Culturally, yes Latin people all speak Spanish, but being honest I think thrre arenmore differences than similarities after that.  Cubans/PR’s and Dominicans are similar in obvious ways, but Mexicans and Argentinians are not alike nor are they like the islanders. Drag Spain into it ans you have about 75% of the latin world population and very little similarity other than language and the fact that they are more likely to have Spanish blood. Also, yeah people here are not as punctual, but don’t bank on it.  95% of my appointments start on time and I’m stood up a lot less than I was when I worked in London. 

Of course it was all meant to be a joke Hispanics drink cortaditos, show up late and smile with glee at the thought of Sabado Gigante. Funny right? Errrrr ... No..

Posted on 08/08/2013 at 7:28 PM

Parker says:

Hey sorry about those crazy typos above.  I think you catch my drift though ...

Posted on 08/08/2013 at 7:38 PM

Juan Smith says:

Oh, man, you’re so wrong. Any “anglo” reading this, please understand that you’ll only be more segregated if your small talk is about Sabado Gigante or the plot of a telenovela. This guy here is just an “anglo” who’s not been able to adapt to his surroundings, and for one reason or another, has been given space to write about the projections of his own issues adapting to his environment, in a pseudo-popular platform: enter the internet.

The best way to “survive the spanish workplace” is for you to exercise respect, manners and to be humble, just like, hmm, everywhere else? Making the stereotypical comments detailed above will not make you fit in, will make you a jerk, pretty much like the author of this article. To Matty “inadaptado” ‘Merica boy: go home gringo.

Posted on 07/29/2015 at 11:15 AM

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